In fact, you could say it actually started on a very spiritual note as just before the warm-ups ended, a man stood up, and with bible in hand, preached the gospel to those in attendance until being escorted from the premises. I guess I was hoping he would say a prayer for our kicking game before he left.
It stayed spirited on the field as David Herron, one of the premier linebackers in the country, made tackles and plays all over the field in an impressive defensive effort.
Spartans on both sides of the ball had their moments in the sun, so let's look at position breakdowns:
Drew Stanton looked like Drew always does, in control and enthusiastic, scoring on a scamper around left end. However, I was hoping he would throw the ball long and open up that part of the offense. That's part of his game he needs to work on and it didn't materialize in limited work.
Brian Hoyer looked very good in warm-ups and was ok during the scrimmage, throwing a touchdown pass to Kerry Reed. At this point he is better than Natale, and more poised. However, he did have an intentionally grounding penalty that was vehemently protested by QB coach Dan Enos.
Natale looked like he was really pressing and it showed. He was errant in warm-ups and it continued into the game. He fumbled a couple of snaps under center, and made some errant throws early on. He also threw an interception to Cole Matinsky.
However, after probably realizing he wasn't going to surplant Hoyer as the No.2 QB on this day, he settled down toward the end of the scrimmage and played better. He tossed a nice touch lob deep that drew an interference flag, and he also threw a couple of nice passes to Deon Curry, and one to Carl Grimes that went for 30-yards. He also also showed some speed when running with the football.
My opinion here is Natale just needs confidence, experience and snaps to get better. A couple of times he pulled the ball down early and ran with it. His decision making leaves something to be desired, but I feel that most of it will come with time.
Clay Charles actually had some good poise and leadership when he played the quarterback position but some of those positive feelings went for naught went he when he threw an interception to Mike Cordell that was returned 70-yards for a touchdown. However he did come back with a 14-yard run.
A.J. Jimmerson looked very good on the field and got extended minutes and carries. He has good explosion up the middle, and ran surprisingly tough up the gut. He ended up with 63-yards on thirteen carries.
Javon Ringer had limited carries and looked decent. Jehuu Caulcrick had a nice run up the middle of 46-yards, but nearly had a fumble on the goal line trying to stick the ball over the goal line with one hand.
Right now MSU has a nice three back rotation with Caulcrick, Ringer, and Jimmerson.
At wide receiver, MSU is absolutely loaded. Devin Thomas showed that he was the real deal with a great fake to go deep to catch a touchdown pass. He also got free in the secondary again but was over shot on the throw. He ended up catching three balls for 63 yards and a touchdown on the day.
TJ Williams can split the defense deep as advertised, but will need to work on his hands, something that has been his main weakness. He also showed good escapability on a punt return, and he has impact type speed.
Carl Grimes, Deon Curry, and Diego Oquendo all have improved from last year and all show the ability to run across the middle. Kerry Reed showed good hands as he always does.
I though some of the veteran receivers struggled. Matt Trannon dropped some balls before taking one of those dropped balls and slamming it against the stadium wall in disgust. Jerramy Scott also dropped a few in practice, and had limited success outside of a 30-yard catch.
I did think Terry Love did some good in things in the punt return game, breaking a long run. He also ran about 50-yards to pick up about three yards on a reverse that that was hemmed in, and turned back in the other direction. He may be the best Spartan in the open field at this point. Although Thomas may be the best in getting open as a receiver.
I guess I'm also concerned about moving Mike Gyetvai from right tackle to left tackle. It's not that Jesse Miller isn't going to play well, he will I believe. My concern is that Gyetvai struggled in pass blocking, something dangerous for someone pretecting Drew Stanton's backside.
Perhaps it's all the hype that Roland Martin has, but he needs to play a little better as well in my opinion.
Dwayne Holmes at this time is 'the man' at the tight end spot. A physical blocker, he can catch the ball in traffic, and can get tough yards. He ran over one defensive back in the scrimmage.
Kellen Davis has good speed but was not utilized in the passing game today. His blocking still looks average to me. He almost reminds me of a big wide receiver that easily gets knocked off his base. If he gets a little stronger in the upper and lower body without losing speed, he could be a dangerous weapon. Right now he looks like a blocking liability.
The defensive line played pretty well. Jonal Saint-Dic has made a ton of improvement from last year and made several plays. He has made vast improvements from being just a pass rusher to someone who can also stop the run.
Ogemdi Nwagbuo plugged up the middle in his appearances, and Bobby Jones had good penetration in turning run plays around. Cliff Ryan also made several plays. The interior side of the defensive line looks solid.
The rest of the defensive line was decent. Although I thought Reggie Graham made some things happen with his great speed. He reminds me of a Derrick Thomas or Derrick Brooks. Exceptional speed off the edge to make tackles for loss. Joe Toth also looked a little better.
When John L. Smith took over at MSU and players introduced themselves, Herron stood up and said, "I'm a fullback." John L. Smith looked at him and said, "You're a linebacker!". There must have some divine intervention here as well, as Herron has developed into one of the top linebackers around.
Herron made play, after play, after play. He also vocally let the offense know he was here to "bring it". He knocked a pass down, stuffed the run, and pressured and sacked the quarterback. The only downside to Herron is that someday he will be leaving to play in the NFL.
Eric Gordon and Josh Rouse showed they are going to be players with a knack for stringing out a play and getting to the ball carrier. You might as well put Adam Decker in that category as well. Decker keeps coming on and finished with nine tackles. Andrew Hawken eventually will be a player as well and he also had nine stops. Cole Corey also made a few good plays. Sir Darean Adams was his usual self, giving the Spartans a solid second line of defense for the upcoming season with the return of Kaleb Thornhill. These guys are all young, but all have a nose for the football.
In the secondary, Nehemiah Warrick impressed the crowd with a a bone jarring hit covering a receiver. Demond Williams and Ross Weaver were decent, although Weaver nearly misplayed a potential interception into a near touchdown. Williams came up quickly to support the run and to snuff out a screen pass.
The back-up secondary players fought hard, Back-up corner Mike Cordell took back an interception 70-yards for a touchdown. Cole Matinsky came up with an interception himself. Travis Key reacted quickly in pass coverage. Hey, at least these guys are starting to make some plays on a few balls.
Danny Fortener was a nice surprise as he finished with eight tackles from a safety position.
I only saw a couple of breakdowns in the secondary, and not too many guys running wide open down field. Alhough no one was in the same area code of a Stanton to Scott crossing pattern early in the game. But after that it was ok, although these guys weren't tested deep too often.
In my opinion Todd Boleski is by far and away the best kicker on this team when he is accurate. After missing one early he came back with a 32-yard field goal, he closed the game with field goals of 40, 47, and 55-yards on three consecutive plays.
The 55-yard attempt was especially inspirational that let the game end on a high note and the crowd roaring its approval. Smith called all the extra players over from the sideline to stand around Boleski as he attempted this long kick with players yelling to distract him. He promptly stepped up and drilled it through the uprights.
John Goss has to be given credit for coming out and trying to win a second string position as a punter, a feat he didn't handle too well today. He opened with a weak 25-yard effort, but later came back with a decent 37-yard effort.
Matt Haughey looked like the better kicker from short distances in practice, that was before he banged one off the upright in the game. He definitely does not have the leg that Boleski has.
Brandon Fields had a booming 57-yard punt, although he had some short ones to, including a 32-yarder.
At one point kicking game assignments drew the anger of Coach Smith after the sideline struggled with a punt substitution. His voiced boom across the stadium with the words, "What are we doing!" Can't blame him, I'm sure the fans have been thinking the same thing.
After the game, Spartans players and coaches signed autographs for fans and the many kids who showed up. Their beaming faces told the story of a good time had by all.
As I left the stadium, the man previously escorted out was still preaching to anyone who would listen. I was going to tell him that the Spartans made three field goals in a row, including one from 55-yards, but I thought... that may be something too hard for anyone to believe.
Stayed tuned for more exciting Spartan football coverage from GSN.